Monday, February 21, 2011

The Mourning Wars. Born a Puritan Raised a Mohawk by Karen Steinmetz

The Mourning Wars is a fictional account of the Mohawk raid on the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts on the night of February 29, 1704. During this raid, many of the Puritan settlers were captured and taken north into Canada. Mourning Wars retells the story of Eunice Williams, who was captured along with her father, mother, brothers Samuel, Warham and Stephen and her sister Esther and forced to march to the Mohawk village of Kahnawake. In Kahnawake, 7 year-old Eunice is adopted by Atironta and Kenniontie who lost their only daughter Gannestenawi the previous year to smallpox. Eunice is given a special place within the Mohawk tribe and is renamed A'onote. A'onote is "planted in their hearts".

Soon after arriving in Kahnawake, Eunice meets a Jesuit missionary Achiendase from Montreal, Quebec who tells her that the French Governor Vaudreil, known as Onnontio to the Mohawks, will not free her but allow Kenniotie to keep her. Although the French often bought English children from the Indians and sold them back to their families, they also often would not interfere with the practice of the Indians taking English captives. This was in part due to the alliance between the Mohawk and the French during the French-English war.

Eventually A'onote/Eunice adapts to her Mohawk life, becoming a Catholic and studying the ways of her adopted people.

In one respect, I found it difficult to accept Eunice/A'onote's choice to remain with her captors when she was young especially so in light of what we know today about the psychological stress kidnapped individuals undergo during their captivity. It's quite possible that Eunice likely developed Stockholm syndrome in order to cope with living under circumstances so different from what she was accustomed to and also to the threat of imminent harm if she did not cooperate. The latter would have been evident because she also knew that these same Indians murdered her brother John and 6 week old sister Jerusha at Deerfield and killed her mother after she fell into river during the march north. She likely knew she was totally dependent upon them for her survival in the bush during the winter months.

Although Eunice had extensive contact with the Jesuit missionaries from the beginning the decision to stay or return to her English family was left up to her when she was older. However, when Eunice was first with the Mohawks, Kenniontie refused Onnontio's wife's offer to redeem A'oronte. They often refused to allow A'oronte to meet with the English, thus preventing her the opportunity to make a real choise. Steinmetz tells us in her afterword, that many English women and children chose to remain with their captors. "The choice to remain with their adoptive families must have been influenced by various factors, but I imagine that, in addition to being converted to Catholicism, they also came to appreciate a world where children were indulged and women were acknowledged to have power and allowed to play important roles in all realms of life."
Steinmetz suggests that as a child, Eunice would have found life with the Catholic Mohawk in sharp contrast to her rigorous and strict Puritan upbringing.

Steinmetz has crafted a well written fictional account of what Eunice's life might have been like after her capture and her eventual assimilation into the Mohawk tribe. A list of characters in this story would have been helpful as well as a map showing the location of Deerfield and the Kahnawake village.

Book Details:
The Mourning Wars. Born a Puritan Raised a Mohawk by Karen Steinmetz
Roaring Brook Press   2010

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